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Cablegate: Spanish Regional Elections Unlikely to Radically

VZCZCXRO5838
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHIK RUEHKW RUEHLA
RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMD #1002/01 1441718
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 241718Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY MADRID
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2609
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLA/AMCONSUL BARCELONA 2741

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MADRID 001002

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/WE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SP
SUBJECT: SPANISH REGIONAL ELECTIONS UNLIKELY TO RADICALLY
ALTER POLITICAL MAP

MADRID 00001002 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Spanish voters head to the polls on May 27
to elect governments in most of Spain's 17 autonomous
communities and in all of its city and town councils, in the
first important electoral battle between the Spanish
Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP)
since the national elections of March 14, 2004. Those
elections took place three days after the Madrid train
bombings and gave the PSOE of President Jose Luis Rodriguez
Zapatero a surprise victory over Mariano Rajoy, the PP
successor to former President Jose Maria Aznar. Spanish
polling over the past few months has been ambiguous and
indicates that the results will likely be a draw for both the
PSOE and PP, providing both with some momentum going into
national elections that will be held by March 2008. The
polls suggest that the Socialists could gain enough votes to
lead coalition governments in two current PP-controlled
regions, and the PP is expected to increase its support in
its traditional regional strongholds. However, any
combination of Socialist victories in key regions would give
Zapatero a good base of support going into national
elections. Despite the high-profile national issues that
dominate Spanish headlines, this electoral campaign has been
fought over local issues and interests. It will be difficult
to extrapolate the outcome of the regional and local
elections, whatever it may be, to predict how the PSOE and PP
will fare nationally. The Spanish political scene is highly
volatile, and both parties fear some "wildcard" issue could
come to the fore suddenly * such as renewed ETA violence or
an Islamic terrorist attack * that could swiftly change
current projections of the elections outcome. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Spanish voters will head to the polls on May 27 to
elect the governments of 13 of Spain's 17 autonomous
communities (all but Andalusia, Catalonia, Galicia, and the
Basque Region) and more than 8,000 city and town councils, in
the first important electoral battle between the Spanish
Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the Popular Party (PP)
since the national elections of March 14, 2004. Those
elections took place three days after the Madrid train
bombings and gave the PSOE of President Jose Luis Rodriguez
Zapatero a surprise victory over Mariano Rajoy, the PP
successor to former President Jose Maria Aznar. Some Spanish
pundits have posited that the local elections may be a good
barometer of the prospects for President Zapatero to win a
second term in national elections that will take place by
March 2008. Spanish polling over the past few months has
been ambiguous and indicates that the results will likely be
a draw for both the PSOE and PP, providing both with some
momentum going into national elections. The polls suggest
that the Socialists could gain enough votes to lead coalition
governments in two current PP-controlled regions, and the PP
is expected to increase its support in its traditional
regional strongholds. However, any combination of Socialist
victories in key regions would give Zapatero a good base of
support going into national elections.

3. (SBU) Despite the high-profile national issues that
dominate Spanish headlines (such as the Zapatero government's
controversial policy of negotiations with the terrorist group
ETA, the decision to remand convicted ETA assassin De Juana
Chaos from prison to a hospital for treatment to recover from
a self-inflicted hunger strike, and the continued heated
debate over the former Aznar government's support of the Iraq
war and Zapatero's decision to withdraw Spanish troops), this
electoral campaign has been fought over local issues and
interests, and the personality and charisma of each candidate
appear to carry more weight than the affiliated party's stand
on national issues. On the national level, Rajoy's PP has
adopted a reflexive, hard-lined opposition to the Socialist
government on almost every issue that appears to have
energized its base, but it has failed to move the party's
polling upward. Rajoy has urged voters to support his party
in order to "defend freedom and defeat ETA." Even in PP
strongholds, Zapatero polls better than Rajoy in terms of
popularity. The PP goes into the May 27 elections secure in
most of its traditional bases of support but vulnerable in
two key regions, Navarra and the Balearic islands.

4. (SBU) After studying the polls and analyzing the electoral
map, the Embassy and CG Barcelona determined that Navarra,
the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, and Valencia will
be the key "battleground" regions with the potential to shift
the balance of power. We discovered in visits to some of
these key regions and meetings with local officials of all
political stripes that coalition-building with smaller
political parties may be the deciding factor in some
important races, and that national politics had not played
much of a role in the campaign. A wildcard in these

MADRID 00001002 002.2 OF 003


regional/local elections*and for the early 2008 national
elections*is the possibility of renewed ETA violence or
another Islamic extremist terrorist attack. Either scenario
could dramatically change the political dynamic, though in
still unpredictable ways which we cannot necessarily assume
will favor any particular party.

//SNAPSHOTS OF POTENTIALLY KEY REGIONS//

5. (SBU) Although sea changes are not expected, the following
regions could have the potential to give either the PSOE or
PP momentum heading into national elections:

A. Navarra - The northern region of Navarra has been the most
closely watched community of this campaign due to its
proximity to the Basque region and ETA's claim that Navarra
forms part of the historic Basque region. Navarra is
currently ruled by the Union del Pueblo Navarro (UPN), the
PP,s signature ally in the region, but recent polls indicate
that the UPN will not win an absolute majority, not even with
the help of smaller party CDN, as it has done in the past.
Navarra would then change hands if the PSOE and a grouping of
left-wing and nationalist parties (including some with ties
to ETA's political wing Batasuna) were to successfully join
forces. A PSOE-led coalition victory would be seen as a
significant PP setback both in the region and nationally, but
also a card the PP could play against PSOE in the national
election campaign.

B. The Canary Islands - Neither the PP nor the PSOE have ever
obtained an absolute majority in the Canaries, and a party
known as the Canaries Coalition (CC) has been the most voted
party in the past two regional elections. The CC has never
had a problem with switching allegiances. It formed a
government with the PP in 1999, then joined forces with the
PSOE in 2003. Both main parties covet an absolute majority
to deny the CC the role of kingmaker, but the most reliable
polling indicates that CC will again make the difference.
The PSOE has called in a heavy hitter in an attempt to wrest
control from the CC. Former Minister of Justice Juan
Fernando Lopez Aguilar (who is generally friendly towards the
USG) heads the PSOE ticket, but it appears unlikely that the
national politician who is a native of the Canaries will put
PSOE over the top with a majority. Voters in Canaries have
expressed displeasure with the recent years of CC governance,
and polls indicate that the PSOE may gain some seats at the
CC's expense, with the PP holding steady. The CC will likely
still play the kingmaker, deciding whether to pact with the
PP or the PSOE to govern. Although unlikely, a surprise
outright win by either major party would greatly boost its
national election prospects. Immigration is the signature
issue in this region, and a decisive vote could impact the
national debate in advance of national elections.

C. The Balearic Islands - This region has voted the PP into
power for almost all of its twenty years as an autonomous
region, save the period from 1999-2003 when the PSOE ran the
government by forming a pact with several smaller parties.
Current Baleares President Jaume Matas of the PP (a close
confidant of Rajoy and former Environment Minister in the
Aznar Government) has lost significant electoral support in
recent months as allegations of urban corruption and some
city governments receiving kickbacks have tainted his
campaign. Recent polls indicate his party should again win
the election by a small margin - Matas remains widely popular
mainly for his close contacts in Madrid and the bounty that
has brought the island - but will fall short of an absolute
majority by 3-4 seats. The PP would be forced to try and
pact with a small nationalist group known as the Unio
Mallorquina (UM), but it is unclear if the UM will even win
enough seats to put a new PP government over the top. The UM
may actually choose instead to support some leftist groups as
the party has done in the past. Some Spanish political
observers suggest that if the PSOE affiliate in the Balearics
increases its number of seats by just 2-3, they would be able
to again form a pact with the Bloc per Mallorca (a group of
left-leaning parties) and once again rule the region. If
this happens, and it is still a long shot, it would be a huge
momentum boost to the PSOE and Zapatero.

D. Valencia - After several years of a Socialist government
in the late 80s and early 90s, Valencia since 1996 has been a
PP stronghold. Current regional governor Francisco Camps
remains a highly popular leader and a potential future
national leader of the Popular Party. Most polls show he
should comfortably win an absolute majority; however, one
small poll indicating he might not gain the majority has the
PP worried enough to motivate their base to get out to vote.

MADRID 00001002 003.2 OF 003


The poll, which Camps' campaign manager says turned out to be
false, nonetheless has also served to help motivate PSOE
voters, though the Socialist party in Valencia believes that
it has a strong chance of winning only if it can achieve a
70-percent turnout of PSOE voters. This high percentage is
unlikely unless some major event occurs that brings voters
out to the polls. Valencia Mayor Rita Barbera (PP) also has
maintained her popularity and both parties expect her to win.
While regional and local issues dominate in Valencia, there
is strong concern about Zapatero,s ETA policy, particularly
after the release of ETA terrorist De Juana Chaos, and over
perceived PSOE policies that threaten to undermine Spanish
unity. A large PP victory in Valencia will carry Camps into
a strong position to lead the PP in the future, particularly
if current PP national leader Rajoy cannot carry enough votes
in the next round of national elections.

E. Catalonia - This region held state-wide elections last
November, which resulted in a Socialist-led regional
coalition government, and will hold only municipal elections
this time around. The key race is for mayor of Barcelona.
There are almost no surprises expected here, as the
Socialists are expected to sweep. In Barcelona, Catalan
Socialist Party (PSC) mayor Jordi Hereu is expected to
confirm his mandate, retain his seat, and possibly even add
to his support on the city council. Going into the election
with poll numbers topping 59 percent of support, he would
need to stumble badly for the other parties to make any
headway. If the polls hold true in other major cities such
as Girona, Tarragona, and Lleida, the Socialist party stands
to gain greater control of the region than it has ever had.
It would control all four provincial capitals and
significantly increase its presence on the major city
councils.

//BEYOND MAY 27//

6. (SBU) It will be difficult to extrapolate the outcome of
the regional and local elections, whatever it may be, to
predict how the PSOE and PP will fare in the next round of
national elections, since only 13 out of the 17 Spanish
Autonomous regions will cast their vote on May 27, and
overriding national issues played only a tangential role in
this campaign. However, the numerous municipal elections
carried out in every Spanish city and town hall may provide a
glimpse of the main issues on the minds of the Spanish.
Although an unlikely scenario, if the PP were to lose the
regional election in Madrid, a major PP stronghold along with
Valencia, Mariano Rajoy may see his leadership openly
questioned by his own party. A stunning defeat in Madrid
would open the door for a PP leadership make over, and other
would-be leaders would likely challenge his leadership. At
this point, neither scenario seems likely, but the Spanish
political scene is highly volatile, and both parties fear
some "wildcard" issue could come to the fore suddenly * such
as an ETA or Islamic terrorist attack * that could swiftly
change current projections of the elections outcome.
LLORENS

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